Waking Up


by
Savoy Truffle



Part Four



“I’ll get it!”

Buffy jumps to her feet at the sound of Giles’ doorbell. She’ll do anything to avoid having to read even one more sentence of From Kpalikpa to Slolikpa: A Comparative Genealogy of Third Order Anthselar Demons, which has to be the densest, driest thing she’s tried to read since… well, since last night’s research session, but it still sucks.

As Buffy opens Giles’ front door, her smile turns to a scowl.

“Spike. What an unpleasant surprise. And here I thought that after I took your pretty little ring you’d decided you didn’t want to play with me anymore.”

“Slayer,” Spike growls.

Buffy sighs and tries to figure out if this is a step up or down from the Comparative Genealogy. She determines it’s a lateral move. “I’m really not up for your games right now, Spike…. Unless you’ve come here to let me stake you. Cause I’m always up for that.”

Buffy flips her hair, crosses her arms over her chest and smiles.

“You done yet?” Spike asks.

Buffy bristles at his bored tone, cold smile dropping from her face. “What are you doing here?”

“If you shut up for a second, maybe I’ll tell you.”

Buffy watches as Spike makes a gesture and a demon steps out from the shadows.

“What, you wanted to introduce me to your new friend? Surprise, Spike, I don’t really care.”

“Actually, the boy here is yours.”

“Boy?” Buffy asks. She frowns as the demon grunts and gesticulates.

“I’ll call you ‘boy’ if I bloody well please,” Spike tells it. “And you are hers. Aren’t mine, at least…. Get over it. Who’s helping who here?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Buffy says, but Spike ignores her and continues with the demon.

“Yes, I’m going to tell them about the soddin’ Snoopy dance, but if you don’t mind, I’m a bit busy trying to keep Her Blondness from staking me with anything sharper and more painful than her rapier wit.”

“Wait a second,” Buffy says, because that sounded like an insult. And who is she kidding? It’s Spike. Of course it’s an insult. She glares at Spike, but he isn’t paying attention, is still talking to the demon.

“I am not. She’s aggravating me.”

More grunts and gestures from the demon.

“Oh, like you’re a paragon of maturity…. Paragon. A model of excellence or perfection of a kind…. It’s English. Learn it.”

“Hello!” Buffy calls, giving a little wave. “Still here. Still waiting for a reason not to stake you.”

Spike keeps looking at the demon. “Well, if Xander here would shut…”

“Xander?” Buffy says.

Xander?” Willow comes racing to the door, halts when she sees Spike. “That’s Spike. Where’s Xander? I don’t see Xander.”

The demon resumes grunting and gesticulating in earnest.

“He says, ‘Snoopy dance, Snoopy dance.’” Spike releases a long-suffering sigh. “Christ, I feel like Whoopi Goldberg.”

“Snoopy dance?” Willow’s brown furrows for a moment, then her eyes widen. She steps out the door toward the demon. “Xander? Is that you?”

Buffy yanks Willow back through the doorway. “Willow! Threshold? Vampire?”

“But, Buffy, that’s Xander.”

“No, Willow, it isn’t. Xander left, remember? He’s gone. It’s been over four months. He’s never written, he’s never called…”

The demon grunts. Spike translates. Or pretends to translate, Buffy insists.

“He says you left once, too.”

“That was different,” Buffy says.

“How?” Willow asks.

Buffy turns betrayed eyes on her supposed best friend. “I came back.”

Willow points to the demon. “Well, so did he.”

Buffy wants to shake her supposed best friend. “Willow, that can’t be Xander. That is a demon.”

The demon starts grunting again at the same time that Willow says: “Right. Of course not. Cause weird things like that never happen here in Sunnydale.”

Spike smirks and points to the demon, then to Willow. “He said what she said.”

Buffy sighs and tries not to look like she’s conceding. “Alright, so it’s possible. But we’re going to need more proof to know that you’re not trying to pull something on us, Spike.”

All eyes turn to the demon, which begins to grunt a mile a minute. Buffy has to admit, the demon does appear to do Xander-babble. After about twenty seconds, Spike starts laughing so hard he can barely talk.

“No, really… a giant praying mantis?”

The demon keeps grunting.

“Well, why’d she pick…. Were you, now? How precious. Are you still? … You shagged Buffy?”

“What? No, he didn’t!” Buffy cries.

The demon grunts and gestures wildly.

“Oh, the other slayer! Well, that’s alright, then. Would’ve had to question your taste there…”

“Hey,” Buffy says. “Less commentary, more proof.”

Spike waits while the demon grunts some more, nods and turns to Buffy and Willow.

“Right, so: praying mantis, hyena, Incan mummy girl, saving your life when Deadboy couldn’t—the bloody poof—the swim team, the bad love spell, shagging the rogue slayer…”

Spike pauses to take in a few more grunts.

“He says if that’s not enough for you, he can move on to highlight your most embarrassing moments, instead of just his…”

Buffy and Willow exchange a glance and answer in unison. “We’re convinced.”

“Come in, Spike,” Willow says and Buffy steps out of the doorway to let them pass.

“Giles!”





Part Five

Spike looks like he could use a cigarette... or ten. Jonesing—that’s the word. Not like it can be the nicotine, but Spike is clearly jonesin’ for a fixation. Something to do with his twitching fingers, somewhere to rest his darting glance.

He stands almost perfectly still for a long moment… has crossed eight feet to a new corner before Xander even saw a sign that he was about to move. His back to the juncture of walls, ever wary, Spike turns his head this way and that, his hands curl into fists and uncurl, he pats down his duster for cigarettes and comes up empty. And just when Xander thinks Spike’s body is about to jump out of its own skin, that body and skin freeze again in an eerie wax-museum tableau—and, yes, that’s a corpse standing in the corner.

A few moments of stillness, with only the sound of human breath and turning pages, and the muscles between Xander’s demon shoulders start to unclench… but then Spike is on the move once more, crossing to a new corner and Xander is wound so tight again he’s about to snap.

But he’s not the first to go.

“Bloody hell, Spike, you’re driving us all mad! Sit down before I nail your arse to the chair.” One look at Giles and Spike apparently opts not to argue, takes the nearest seat. Giles walks over and hands Spike a heavy leather book. “And as you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful. I believe I recall reading a description of a Tchilalok ritual somewhere in the footnotes of this volume.”

Ladies and gentlemen, from stuffy British watcher to Ripper and back again in 3.6 seconds. Marvel at the spectacle.

Xander slumps into the couch. He’d be researching, but he can’t turn the pages. And he’s tired. Very tired. He can’t remember when he last slept for more than an hour or two at a time. And it’s strange to be here, in Giles’ apartment, where he’s only been a couple times before, with people he doesn’t know how to talk to anymore, both literally and… whatever the opposite of literally is.

He focuses on Spike, who hasn’t actually stopped moving. Spike skims a few pages, gets up, paces a bit, sits back down. Lather, rinse, repeat. Xander doubts Spike even realizes that he’s not just sitting still.

Suddenly, Spike is still, focused, eyes inches from the page, following his finger as it slides quickly over the print. A couple minutes like this, then Spike stands, carries the book across the room and drops it in front of Giles.

“Ritual body switch. Instantiation ceremony. Interdimensional talisman. I’m outta here.”

Spike is halfway across the room before the words register. Xander stands but doesn’t know what to say. Willow speaks.

“Wait. You’re leaving? Just like that?”

“Done my good deed for the decade. Time for me to run along, ’fore I get staked. ’Sides, been drinking cold animal blood for days. Think it’s about time I found myself something a bit… fresher.”

Willow chooses to ignore the last bit. “You saved Xander. Buffy would never…”

The clack of wood against wood and heads turn to find Buffy digging stakes out of the weapons chest. Buffy looks up at Spike and smiles.

“I won’t stake you here, but I see you out there tonight, Spike, all bets are off.”

“Buffy! He brought Xander back.”

“Willow! He’s still evil. Aren’t you, Spike?”

Spike nods. “She’s got a point, Red. Still evil, here. As soon drain you as look at you, yeah?”

Buffy shoots Willow a familiar stern, smug look that Xander has always hated, but now wants to slap off her tiny blond face. “See?”

“But… but…”

Before Willow can finish the thought, Giles steps in.

“Evil or not, Buffy, the fact remains that Spike is the only one who can understand Xander and serve as his interpreter.”

“Which he’s done,” Buffy says. “And now you’ve got a book that tells you what did this and you’re going to tell me and I’ll going to slay it and we’ll get Xander back. End of story. No Spike required.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple…”

“Then we’ll make it simple.”

“Buffy! Listen to me. As much as it pains me to admit it, we need Spike. He cannot leave.”

“I bloody well can,” Spike says.

“He bloody well can,” Buffy echoes.

Giles sighs. “You’re not helping.”

Buffy whines. “He’s not helping.”

“Go patrol.”

Buffy crosses her arms over her chest. “You’re not my watcher. You can’t order me around.”

It’s a low blow and Xander can almost detect a flinch behind his eyes, but Giles holds his ground, crossing his own arms over his own chest. “Go patrol.

Buffy gathers her stakes and starts for the door. “I’m going because I want to go. And if I see him out there, he’s dust.”

“In your dreams, Slayer.”

“My dreams have a way of coming true, Spike.”

The glasses are off and the handkerchief is out and Giles is frantically rubbing, but Xander suspects those fingers would rather be squeezing around a certain neck.

“Buffy. Go.” Buffy goes and silence follows. Spike starts for the door. “Spike. Stay.”

“Out of the kindness of my heart, Rupert? Not likely.”

“Please, Spike…” Willow begins, her lip quivering in a pout that Xander doubts works on the evil undead.

A pout that apparently Giles wants none of. “Willow, that’s quite enough. We will pay you, Spike.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.” Spike continues toward the door.

“One hundred dollars.”

Spike is still moving and Xander’s demon heart starts racing.

“Two hundred,” Giles says.

“Please don’t go,” Xander says.

Spike stops with his hand on the doorknob. “Cash up front.”

Giles snorts. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Fine.” Xander expects Spike to open the door and walk out, but instead his hand drops from the doorknob and he walks back into the room. “But I want blood, cigarettes and a glass of scotch. The good stuff, mind. I know you’ve got it.”

Giles heads for the liquor cabinet and pours two tumblers, over three fingers each. He turns and hands one to Spike.

“Agreed.”

Xander watches them drink on it, before giving in to his exhaustion and passing out on the couch. When he wakes up a few hours later, it’s quiet and dark and he’s alone and he can’t remember where he is and he starts to panic. He rolls to his side and his eyes fall on Spike, asleep on the floor beside the couch.

Not alone. The panic recedes and Xander is asleep again in minutes.





Part Six

Xander hopes that Spike had the good sense to renegotiate his contract before they left. Because the research days? Pretty cushy. But the three days and counting in this dimension? Definitely hazard pay material.

Of course, it all sounded easy back in Sunnydale. Just find the talisman, zip over to the other dimension, locate the palace, sneak up on Xander’s body and wait for the switch, destroy the talisman and voila! Back in Sunnydale with a human Xander—complete with opposable thumbs and all-American babble.

Easy, right? Except research didn’t show that it…

“Had to be a soddin’ swamp dimension, didn’t it? Couldn’t be desert dimension. Or even a bloody ice dimension. Or a world without shrimp. No, no. Had to be a soddin’ swamp.”

“Could be worse,” Xander points out.

“How?”

“Could be an eternally sunny dimension. Or a volcano dimension. Your ashes would blend right in. Besides, I think the swampage is temporary.”

“We’ve been slogging in and out of bogs for three bleedin’ days. Not what I’d call temporary, mate.”

“I admit, we didn’t land in the most ideal location…”

“We landed hip deep in sludge,” Spike says. “We are still hip deep in sludge.”

“That’s so not my fault.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”

“You’re getting paid to be here.”

“And if my duster can’t be cleaned, I’m bloody well holding you responsible.”

“I’m sure your duster will be fine. And look on the bright side—at least the cheese wasn’t damaged. That’s what counts.”

“For the last time, that shite is not cheese.”

“Fine. At least the Kraft American Singles weren’t damaged. That better?”

And yes, only the interdimensional talisman of one Xander Harris could ever come in the form of individually-wrapped processed dairy products. When Willow’s little magic detecting ball finally stopped flitting around Xander’s basement apartment only to settle on Kraft singles in Xander’s refridgerator, Xander wasn’t even surprised. It was absurd.

It fit.

And now the cheese is safely tucked away along with the duster in the backpack full of blood and food that Spike is carrying over his head. Because, yes, they are still hip deep in sludge, but…

“I just don’t think it’s gonna last.”

“The so-called cheese? Probably molding as we speak. If shite that processed’s even capable of mold.”

Xander considers. “Doubtful, but that’s not what I meant. I meant the swamp. I don’t think it’ll go on forever.”

“And why shouldn’t it? Because you and I couldn’t possibly be that unlucky?”

“This body. It’s from this dimension but it’s not adapted to swampness. So I figure the city’s got to be on drier, more solid ground.”

“Huh.” Spike nods with something almost like admiration. “You’re smarter than you look.”

“I’m a large, scaly purple demon without opposable thumbs. That’s not really saying much.”

“Meant the way you looked before.”

“And yet that so doesn’t make it even a little better.”

Spike sighs. “Look, it’s like this. When I would see you before, you were always following Her Blondness around like a puppy. The kind of puppy that never stops yapping and gets kicked a lot and wears bleedin’ awful shirts. So I wrote you off…”

“Gee, I bet you give great pep talks.”

“And maybe I shouldn’t have, okay?” Xander looks over at that, but Spike looks away. “Now shut up and keep walking.”


~*~*~*~*~


As it turns out, Xander is right and they reach solid ground within the hour. Half a mile away stands the palace—large and brown and appearing to be made entirely of mud. And Xander never thought of mud as beautiful before, but the design takes Xander’s breath away and he develops an all new respect for the race of demons to which he belongs—despite high hopes of un-belonging very soon. He gazes in wonder.

“How did they do that?”

“They didn’t,” Spike says.

“They didn’t?”

“Weren’t you listening to the watcher’s little lecture?”

Xander looks down at his demon feet. “I may have… um… drifted off a bit in the middle.”

“For Christ’s sake…”

“He talked for, like, forty-five minutes straight. And, besides, you were listening.”

“So, what?” Spike scoffs. “You trusted me to get all the details?”

Xander shrugs. “Well… yeah.”

Xander glances up in time to catch a look he can’t quite decipher before Spike turns and heads toward a small stream. “Better get cleaned up. Get the job done and get outta here.”

They rinse the mud off in the clear water and Spike slides back into the duster, slipping the cheese slices in the left pocket. In the right pocket goes another talisman—this one designed by Willow to make Spike appear to the Tchilalok as one of their own. Willow joked about enchanting a package of bologna, but chose a smooth black stone in the end.

Xander watches the movement of Spike’s hand in the duster pocket, turning the stone over and over between his fingers, as they start in the direction of the palace.

“Human hands built that,” Spike explains, voice low as they pass among dozens of Tchilalok going about their daily business. As far as Xander can tell, that daily business doesn’t amount to much more than walking into, out of or around the palace. There are no other buildings. “That’s why they do the body switch three times a year. To keep a steady supply of human hands about to build and repair the palaces and temples.”

“And here I was hoping I’d been chosen for my dark good looks. Turns out I’m just day labor. Figures.”

“Ole Rupert says the ones with the human bodies are revered for their skills. Like monks, yeah?”

“What? They don’t get to have sex?”

“No, you git. They’re supposed to be closer to the gods and all that. When they create the buildings, it’s like the gods speaking through them.”

“Huh. Too bad they didn’t realize they were stealing the body of a klutz. The only thing the gods will be saying this building season is ‘whoops!’”

If Spike has an answer, it’s lost as they reach the palace gate and demon hands usher them inside to the main hall. “Go, brothers, go. Go and gaze upon him,” numerous voices implore. The instantiation ceremony, it seems, is still in progress. Of course, this is not such a great feat of timing… given that the ceremony lasts forty-two days.

Forty-two days (and nights) of oohing and aahing over Xander’s body—if Giles’ books can be believed. It’s a novel concept and kind of cool… except for a little wiggins.

Then Xander sees his body standing on a platform at the front of the hall. And did he say a little? Make that major wiggins.

And some relief.

But mostly wiggins.

Due in no small part to the extremely wiggins-worthy lime green ensemble his body is sporting. Green pants, green tunic, green shoes, green cape and a little green hat. And sure Xander’s always been a fan of the eye-catching colors, but he’s never been big on the monochromatic. There is such a thing as fashion overkill.

There is also such a thing as stealthy-undercover-body-retrieval-mission overkill.

When, for example, your mission partner gets impatient with the fact that you can’t get close enough to your body for the switch and decides to leap onto the platform and tackle your body to the ground in front of you and the crowd is in uproar and your mission partner…

Starts clutching his head and screaming in pain? What the fuck?

Xander grabs for his body to pull it off the screaming Spike, but his first contact with the body is like a finger in an electric socket and he can’t control his demon limbs and it feels like he’s vibrating out of his skin…

And then he is out of his skin. Or in his skin, rather. Out of the demon and back in the Xander, and there’s no time to celebrate because Spike is still shaking underneath him and an angry demon mob is descending upon them and Xander can’t tell what they’re saying because he doesn’t speak Tchilalok anymore, but he’s pretty sure it isn’t “Yay, you’re back in your body and we all want to give you a big hug.”

And they need to get out of there, like, five minutes ago, and he knows that he knows the way to do that and that way is to… to… to destroy the talisman!

Xander reaches into Spike’s duster pocket and grabs the un-cheese and…

How the hell do you destroy Kraft Singles?

They don’t exactly break. Xander considers eating them, but fears some sort of wonky side effect—besides which, it would take him forever to unwrap each individually wrapped slice. And they don’t have forever. They have roughly twenty seconds at best.

That’s when Xander spots the flaming urn. He doesn’t think, just throws.

The Kraft Singles seem to move in slow motion, arcing through the air toward the fire. And Xander knows he’s going to miss and be torn limb from limb by the encroaching demon horde and he wraps his body around Spike’s and braces himself…

But somehow he doesn’t miss and the smell of burning plastic mingles with the smell of burning dairy product and then disappears altogether, along with the roar of the crowd.

Xander looks up and they’re alone in the quiet dark of Giles’ living room. He looks down and Spike is still beneath him, only not shaking anymore, just looking up at him with shaken blue eyes and Xander means to ask Spike what the hell happened and if he’s okay…

But he kisses Spike instead.

Click here if you want to see what I had in mind for the palace. Scroll all the way down. The best picture is at the bottom of the page.




Back Index Next



Feed the Author

 Visit the Author's Live Journal

Home Categories New Stories Non Spander